Heart of the Arctic – Day 1

Friday, July 17, 2015
Kuujuaq, 58˚16′ N  68˚15′ W
Sunny, 15˚C   Wind: SW 4-6 Knots

Both alarms worked, and Lee and I were up at 4:30, in the lobby by 5:05. The coach bus arrived at 5:10 and everyone and their luggage was on it by 5:30. This time guests loaded their own luggage, which I preferred to loading it for them.

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Boarding our plane. Lee is photographing the event from the tarmack.

Then off to the airport to catch our Nolinor charter flight to Kuujuuaq. I had to Google Nolinor to find out it what the planes looked like.  We needed two planes to carry all of us. I was on the second plane. It was a two-and-a-bit hour flight with breakfast. However, I was sitting towards the back and they ran out of eggs and bacon four rows ahead of  me and the last few rows  got cinnamon buns. However, they ran out of coffee and there was no substitute.  Imagine running out of coffee on the first flight of the day! A few grumpy guests for sure.

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Kuujjuaq airport.

Landed safely, though, which was more important than breakfast. We walked across pavement to the airport. The folks from the expedition ahead of us – Newfoundland and Labrador – arrived at the same time to take our plane home.

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Yes, that is Margaret Atwood on the left!

Margaret Atwood was one of them.  There she was, THE Margaret Atwood at the same airport as me! And, she was pulling her own carry on luggage like everyone else.  She is a tiny lady with her signature erratic curly (grey) hair.

I waited until the crowd around her dispersed, and then told her I was a fan and asked to have my photo taken with her. She kindly obliged like the vedette she is. We chatted briefly. She asked if I was a passenger. I told her I was the historian and wrote a book about Canadian Arctic expeditions between 1871 and 1912.  She asked if I wrote about John Franklin and John Rae? I told her, no, that I wrote about a later time period.

It was about 10:00 a.m. when we boarded school buses heading to the beach, where we piled out to line up to go into a tent where our bags were checked, as per Transport Canada regulations. The bag checkers were our staff looking for firearms and illegal weapons. Fortunately, it was a warm sunny day and standing in the sun by the Koksoak River was nice. Maybe we were unlucky. There were a few bugs. But maybe we were lucky. It could’ve been raining.

We could see the ship way down river. We were told the ship needed to get underway by 11:00 a.m. before low tide. The line took longer than anticipated and the zodiac ride out to the ship was  about 45 minutes, as it was so far down the river. The zodiacs had to take the luggage out, then come back for passengers. As not everyone could go in the first contingent of zodiacs, it took a couple of trips back and forth to pick up everyone.  The whole loading and unloading of luggage and people took about 2 1/2 hours. Needless to say, we missed the 11:00 tidal dictated departure and had to wait until high tide later.

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The Ocean Endeavour, our adventure cruise ship – and home for the next two weeks.

Approaching from the zodiac, the Ocean Endeavour looked a lot like the Love Boat, but with a blue polar bear on the stack.  The ship was more upscale than the Vavilov. It was much bigger, with two short gangways that came out of the side of the hull, just above water level, making it much easier for folks to disembark directly into the ship.  Up the stairs from the mudroom was a hotel-like lobby where staff served punch in fluted glasses. (see – just like the Love Boat). No hauling luggage here either, as it was taken to passengers’ rooms by the ship’s staff.

We checked out our rooms. I had my own cabin on the fourth deck, down the hall from the mudroom. My cabin was on the inside of the ship, so no porthole. It had an upper bunk that was folded up to the wall and it had its own tiny bathroom. Great digs for two weeks.

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Men’s size 42 boots waiting in the mudroom for passengers to try on.

After lunch we had our first staff meeting in our own expedition room behind the curving staircase that leads up to the lobby. Then company orientation in the Nautilus Lounge, and muster station practice for abandoning ship. After which, we helped passengers in the mud room find rubber boots that fit, which they would use for the duration of the trip. The mudroom is one deck up from the gangway and full of lockers where guests can keep their boots and outerwear, so they don’t have to schlep it back and forth to their rooms.

Then, dinner in a lovely dining room, ordered from a menu, served at our table, and tasted delicious. (can’t remember what I had, but it was good). After dinner we were treated to a Welcome Ceremony in the Nautilus lounge, which is the largest lounge onboard where all 200 passengers can find a comfy seat. We’ll have our presentations and daily recaps here.

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Aaju Peter lights the kudliq during a lovely Welcome Ceremony.

Aaju Peter (culturalist), John Houston (filmmaker), Heidi Langille (culturalist), Pootagook Qiatsuk (carver), CW Nicholl (celebrating his 75 birthday, by returning to Arctic where he had moved to at 17), all sat at a table on the stage. Aaju lit the kudliq, stone lamp, and explained importance of it and the importance of welcoming guests to the north and the importance of guests returning this welcome. It was a lovely ceremony that warmly set the tone of our adventure into the heart of the Arctic.

At 8:30, the tide was high. We weighed anchor, and headed into Ungava Bay. Sun had not completely set at 9:30 when I retired to my cabin.  I was easily rocked to sleep by the gentle movement of the ship – long day, but an exciting one.

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About Season Osborne

I am a writer with a passion for Arctic history. After finding a photo of Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who claimed the Arctic for Canada in 1909, I was inspired to write my master’s thesis on Bernier’s contribution to Arctic sovereignty. This ultimately led to extensive research into Canadian and ‘foreign’ expeditions to the North, which morphed into my recent book, In the Shadow of the Pole: An Early History of Arctic Expeditions, 1871-1912.
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